Re: Which qualifications are worthwhile?
I also did the career change from being a scientist in the NHS pathology labs to IT.
I have a degree in a profession allied to medicine and that is all I have with regards to tertiary education qualifications.
I didn't bother pursuing any other formal degree as working in Networking, the vocational qualifications count more than what you actually did in University.
My post is biased towards networking as that is what I know.
When I switched careers over 10 years ago, I picked myself a CCNA book and with the help of forums and my own lab, was able to get myself to a first line standard. This was done when I was still working as a scientist. Once I passed the CCNA, I started applying for jobs and it was only after a few months that I got my first interview. I was lucky to get that job but that was the break I needed and I resigned from the NHS there and then.
If you are interested in networking, it will come down to a choice whether you want to enter telecoms which is where I am at currently or an enteprise environment.
In my experience, only enterprises with a global presence such as banking, etc, will have a dedicated networking team. Smaller enteprises will be looking for a jack of all trades, therefore a Windows/Linux Sys Admin/ and a Networker.
If you are interested in networking such as routers, switches, VoIP, etc, then a managed services provider and a telecoms provider come to mind.
For that, you will need a CCNA as a minimum and you will start from first line as expected. There will be an element of shift work however once you progress to second line, normally, you get changed to days.
Salary requirements for first line ranges according to employer however you are looking at mid-£20K including shift allowance.
I progressed through first line to third line, then moved onto designing data and voice networks but that took me roughly 5 years and is dependent on aptitude.
The salary for a network designer is extremely competitive and from what I have seen on jobserve and the like, normally starts from about £60K. To reach that level, you will need to take more vocational exams such as the CCNP/CCVP and then the CCIE in the relevant track. This is a big investment in time and money so if you are hoping not to study for the next 5 years, then this is not the career track for you. Also, you can't always expect to have training paid for hence why the big investment in books from Cisco Press for passing the exams and practice in labs you might build at home.
It is a myth that IT is a job that you leave behind when you leave the office. Once you have reached a certain stage in your career, you will find yourself being the point of contact for many issues, even when you have allegedly finished work, so be prepared to work long hours when needed and be available at short notice.
The main thing is to actually choose the path you want and get qualified in it. You don't have to take any courses but they do help.
As mentioned, I can't comment on any other field apart from networking but I must admit I didn't take heed of the A+ or N+ when interviewing prospective first line and second line candidates. The only thing I was looking for was a CCNA as a minimum and some aptitude for the job in hand.
I wish you luck with the switch.